blank 03/13/12 03:30PM NASCAR, Penalties

Owners' points race starting to tighten up

Every season, a lot of smoke gets raised in the month before -- and then through the actual 10-or-so days of Speedweeks at Daytona -- over which owners in which NASCAR national series have finagled deals to get points to make them guaranteed starters for the beginning of the new season.

It was the same in 2012, though people should certainly be used to it enough by now that they get over it and move on to more constructive topics to debate.


But now, after three races in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, a number of owners' throats are starting to tighten up -- specifically, those around the 35th position in Cup and the 30th position in Nationwide.

At the moment in the Cup Series, the most nervous driver and organization might be Stewart-Haas Racing and Danica Patrick. Although SHR's deal with Tommy Baldwin Racing paid off with 138 laps in the Great American Race, Patrick's 38th position paid just six points.

In subsequent races at Phoenix and Las Vegas, TBR's David Reutimann took over the No. 10 car and was 36th in the former after his car's engine blew, then 31st at Vegas, six laps down. The good news is Reutimann is a guaranteed starter this weekend at Bristol and then next week at Auto Club Speedway.

But the bad news is he's currently 14 points behind the 35th spot, currently held by Casey Mears. And the No. 10 has out-run Mears' No. 13 only once in two races, at Phoenix where Mears finished three spots behind Reutimann after being involved in an accident.

Also a little nervous about their points positions, though they do have two races to correct them, at venues where their drivers are decent, are Phoenix Racing and Penske Racing's No. 22, which are tied-up in a four-team logjam in 31st, three points ahead of 35th. Landon Cassill, whose No. 83 Toyota team is also a guaranteed starter, is on the bubble in 36th, two points out of 35th.

And owner/driver David Stremme might be the most thrilled of those "walking the razor's edge" -- besides owner Frank Stoddard, who did some Race 2 point juggling to solidly put himself into 25th, solid Dave Blaney, who's 20th and Cassill's teammate Travis Kvapil, whose No. 93 Toyota is 28th. Stremme's 37th, three points out of 35th, but he stands to be one of several teams to move up when the Wood Brothers, part of that 31st-place tie, skip Bristol, as scheduled.

In the Nationwide Series, the 30th-place cutoff is muddied a little by a couple cars running well enough to be in the top 20 -- including Roush Fenway Racing's No. 60, which is currently fifth and will run this weekend at Bristol, but continues to have sponsorship issues.

Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 11 with driver Brian Scott did not expect to be 29th in the standings, where it unofficially is heading into Bristol. And MacDonald Motorsports, which made a late chase for the 2011 Nationwide rookie of the year title with Blake Koch, has run better than its unofficial 31st-place heading into Bristol.

The "star" so far has to be former USAR Pro Cup champion Benny Gordon, who declared for the Sunoco rookie of the year prior to last weekend at Las Vegas and who's currently 20th in the standings with his own team, running the full schedule for the first time.

The Camping World Truck Series had just as many points deals as its two "bigger" brothers -- but the difference is, guaranteed starting positions based on owners' points revert to the current year after only four races.

So in that case, the biggest holes are currently occupied by Dakoda Armstrong (35th) and Kyle Busch Motorsports (36th), who both had trouble at Daytona.

Kyle's Slippery Soapbox

Unfortunately the biggest event of this young NASCAR season might be the penalty issued to the No. 48 team after an infraction in pre-event inspection for the Daytona 500 and the subsequent appeals process afterward.

Former driver and TNT and SPEED analyst Kyle Petty launched into a tirade on Sunday's "NASCAR RaceDay" broadcast about the appeal panel and the process itself. Petty, earlier, had been one of a group in the media that decried Hendrick's chance of prevailing in the appeal.

Statistics show, that's not quite an accurate opinion. According to the numbers provided by NASCAR, in 145 appeals heard since November 1999, 101 were upheld, 31 were reduced, 11 were overturned and in two cases the penalties were increased.

"You want to talk about a crapshoot -- this appeals process is a crapshoot," Petty said. "There are 45 members on this board. I challenge anybody out there to find me more than eight or 10 out of this 45 who have been to the race track in the last 12 to 24 months. These people don't go to the race track, they don't understand the process. They don't understand sometimes where this sport is."

Petty's assessment might not be totally fair. In addition to NASCAR vice president of administration Ed Bennett, the "appellate administrator," 11 of the 44 members are former drivers, owners or crew chiefs -- most from the Cup Series. An additional 24 members are speedway and short track executives or industry insiders with long ties to the sport.

Rick Hendrick (Autostock)

One final plea

Rick Hendrick's appeal of the No. 48's penalties was denied leaving the owner with one last shot of preventing the 25-point loss and six-week suspension of Chad Knaus and Ron Malec.

Complete story
Board upholds penalties
H2H: Do they need to win?

The final nine members are great trivia question nominees. And it's a huge part of the reason why Tuesday's outcome could never be predicted.

"I think [appellants] should be judged by their peers," Petty said. "In this environment we race in today, if you commit a crime or you do something, you should be judged by people who understand the sport and what is going on. And I don't think the appeals process is a good process, but at the same time, I don't think the fine or what they've done to Jimmie Johnson and [crew chief] Chad Knaus is anywhere near legit. It's total BS. They never should have fined them because the car never made it onto the race track."

Kahne disappointed again

Kasey Kahne made a little bit of headway in the standings, moving out of the dangerous low-30s in the owners' standings into the high-20s -- but that was no consolation for the Las Vegas pole winner after a certain top-five, and surely a top-10 finish, disappeared when Kahne bounced off the wall on the final restart and finished 19th.

It was the second consecutive bitter disappointment for Hendrick Motorsports' newest driver, who won the Las Vegas pole but didn't lead a lap. At Phoenix the weekend before, Kahne was the most recent winner at the desert mile, but smashed into the wall coming off Turn 4 early in the race, which completely ruined his day.

Gordon's weekend all bad

Of course, Kahne's weekend was nothing compared to the horrendous disappointment suffered by owner/driver Robby Gordon. Gordon had Reed Sorenson waiting in the wings to practice his No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Dodge at Las Vegas while Gordon raced in the SCORE San Felipe 250 off-road race in Mexico in his Trophy Truck.

But Gordon failed to qualify on Friday. In San Felipe, things weren't much better, as the transmission on Gordon's Chevrolet truck broke, rendering him a DNF less than 100 miles into the race.

Gale scores home triumph

Since he left his native Mobile, Ala., as a noted southeastern late model racer, Cale Gale hasn't had a lot of bright spots. Getting wiped-out in an accident in the season-opening Truck Series race at Daytona was a prime example of that.

But the ARCA Racing Series has provided some brilliant sunshine for Gale and Eddie Sharp Racing. After starting sixth and finishing 13th at Daytona for the former series champion team, Gale won the inaugural ARCA event at Mobile International Speedway. Gale led the final 28 laps and prevailed in a green-white-checkered finish over ARCA regular Chad Hackenbracht and teenager Alex Bowman.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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